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Preferential Treatment: How What We Like Defines What We Know

Date:
January 28, 2009
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Preference by itself can influence categorization, according to a new study in Psychological Science. The participants in the positive group sorted the symbols into finer, more specific categories compared to participants in the negative group. The authors suggest that when we like something, we will spend more time thinking about it, poring over its finer details and this will result in more specific categorization.

It is no secret that you know more (that is, have expertise) about things you are interested in. If you hate baseball, you are not going to spend your spare time reading up homerun statistics and debating who the best pitcher is. On the other hand, if you inadvertently tell a wine connoisseur, that you enjoy a particular wine "just because it tastes good,"

it will not be long before you are being lectured on different grape varietals and schooled in the different soil compositions of neighboring vineyards.

However, it is less clear how we categorize and sort all of those facts related to things that interest us. Previous research has indicated that positive feelings towards an item or topic result in broader, more general categorizations of it. In addition, research has focused on expertise as being the main factor in categorization. Psychologists Rachel Smallman and Neal J. Roese from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign wanted to examine the role of preference, not expertise, in categorization.

A group of students were divided into two groups: positive or negative preference. During the experiment, a neutral symbol was paired with either a positive (a pleasant scene), negative (an unpleasant scene) or neutral image. Next, the participants sorted a deck of 20 cards (each card depicting a neutral symbol they were shown earlier) into meaningful categories.

According to results published in Psychological Science preference by itself can influence categorization. The participants in the positive group sorted the symbols into finer, more specific categories compared to participants in the negative group. The authors suggest that when we like something, we will spend more time thinking about it, poring over its finer details and this will result in more specific categorization.

These findings are particularly relevant for consumer psychology because consumers often seek out new kinds of products related to positive earlier experiences. In this way, categorization based on preference can result in specific brands being thought of as distinct.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Smallman et al. Preference Invites Categorization. Psychological Science, 2008; 19 (12): 1228 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02229.x

Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Preferential Treatment: How What We Like Defines What We Know." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 January 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090126135140.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2009, January 28). Preferential Treatment: How What We Like Defines What We Know. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090126135140.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Preferential Treatment: How What We Like Defines What We Know." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090126135140.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

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